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Modern Social Relationship Role Modeling

Beth's experience in the medical field and volunteer work with the CDC inspires her to encourage others to aim for success.

Good role models want to raise happy kids.

Good role models want to raise happy kids.

Parent as Social Role Model

Role models are people worth imitating. They are our heroes and mentors. Parents are the first role models children encounter. Learning to role model social relationship well gives parents an edge. Self-awareness of social relationships is a great way for parents to be good role models for kids. Part of socializing kids well us teaching and role modeling the seven main social relationships.

Parenting in modern society has its own set of unique challenges. With temptations everywhere, it's important to know how to be good role models. We must be vigilant about how we interact with the world to teach our children how to thrive. Being a good role model is one of the most important gifts a parent can give.

As a parent, I am always looking for ways to improve upon the methods in which I raise my children. I was intrigued with the subject of learning to skillfully role model after reading a compelling article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) titled Role Modeling - Making The Most of a Powerful Teaching Strategy, by Sylvia R Cruess, professor of medicine, Richard L Cruess, professor of surgery, and Yvonne Steinert, professor of family medicine.

The article describes how teachers educate medical professionals by passing on values, skills, and knowledge through healthy role modeling. It describes the process of enrichment that results in positive behaviors from both the teacher and the student.

We may not all be raising doctors, but the mapped and demonstrated skills in this article can be modified and adopted by all parents with the intent of raising children through healthy role modeling. Parents are the first role models a human being meets, and using that position for positive behavior changes creates young people who are eager to learn and engage in self-enrichment.

How Parents Role Model Different Types of Relationships

Here are the seven main types of relationships parents need to role model for offspring:

  • Familial relationships: Healthy family relationships help set the stage for a new human being. Role model these by being a kind, accepting, and patient person, even when in highly emotional situations. When you do need to discipline your child, always remind them that you love them and explain the reasoning and emphasize the important lessons.
  • Friends: Role model healthy friendships so that your children have a solid foundation when they begin to make friends. Choose your friends wisely, and try not to surround yourself with toxic people.
  • Education and work: Teach your children to be good students by being a good employee or business owner. Your work ethic will be reflected in your kids. When you are dedicated to your job, it helps them learn to be dedicated to theirs (going to school and later work).
  • Neighbors: In our modern society, more and more people keep to themselves. Building a strong neighborhood takes effort from the people who live there. Teach children how to build those relationships by being a good neighbor, yet drawing clear boundaries.
  • Acquaintances: Treat others well, even the people we hold at the farthest distance. Through these relationships, we can teach our children how to draw tight boundaries, yet still show others respect, no matter the differences.
  • Consumer: Teach children how to be a good consumer by being a good consumer. Be aware of your behavior in stores and when making purchases. This is a good place to teach kids how to correct errors without demeaning fellow human beings who are just trying to do their jobs.
  • Romantic: If you do maintain a relationship, maintain respect and open lines of communication. Avoid violence of any kind. When you role model a healthy romantic relationship you help your child develop parameters for when they will eventually fall in love.

Children begin the learning process by making observations. They learn many skills by watching family members and them imitating the behaviors. With time and experience, your children learn to walk, talk, read and dress themselves. They will watch family, friends, neighbors and learn to build and maintain relationships in the same manner.

Abstracting thoughts and ideas from Role Modeling - Making the Most of a Powerful Teaching Strategy, it only seems to make sense for parents to be aware of the different ways that they are a role model to their children. Kids are watching their parents and will learn a lot through mindful role modeling from the parent.

Parenting is one of those jobs that you have to do, even when it really sucks. Sometimes the stresses of the world can narrow our points of view. You can't quit, you should never just walk away. Parents must endure the good, bad, and ugly, sometimes with little sleep and too many worries. We must remind ourselves to be aware of our state of mind, and make the conscious choice to role model healthy relationships through not just the good times, but the difficult times as well.

Parents as Role Models

Parents are the first role models. They are responsible to teach kids about all of the agreed-upon rules of society. It is their job to mold children's behaviors, so when they become adults they are happy, healthy, and independent. It is one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and there is no pay. It is easy to sometimes forget little ones are watching. Parents as role models set healthy examples for kids to follow.

Here are some ways to be a good familial role model:

  • Good health is essential to a long and happy life. Technology has helped us in many ways but has a major downfall. Parents must be aware that as a society we are far less active than people were in the past. It is easy to get caught up in how technology simplifies work and adds to our comfort. Parents as role models need to emphasize healthy diet choices and physical activity. Help kids learn to make good health choices by setting the example and enjoying healthy activities with your young ones. For more information check out the National Institute of Health's Parent tip sheet for role modeling healthy choices.
  • Role model healthy habits. According to Northwestern Medicine, people without routines often suffer from added stress, low motivation, insomnia, poor diet, and other ailments. Routine sets a structure that helps us function at our best. It is difficult to teach children healthy habits without setting the example first. Good role models can save their kids a lot of trouble by having healthy habits and passing them along.
  • Discipline is one of many tools parents use to achieve a good pattern of behavior. It is a way parents train their kids to work within a given system. This is where parents use control as a method to teach children how to respect authority. A parent can be a good role model through discipline by being the type of authority figure who gains respect. Being fair, and having a response justified to the situation, is a healthy way to discipline kids. On the flip side, by showing your respect to other authority figures, you can teach your kids how to respond appropriately to people in positions of authority.
  • Teaching forgiveness isn't easy, but a good role model is a person with compassion. Families are the people who don't give up on you, pick you up when you fail, and love you even through your faults. This can't be done without forgiveness. A good role model teaches kids to forgive others and to have self-forgiveness. Forgiveness is when we stop feeling angry at others for a flaw or mistake. This doesn't mean that you have to agree with the person's past actions, but instead, teach kids how to let go of anger and resentment. Demonstrate this value through your own actions of forgiveness.
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By engaging in forgiveness, routines, physical activity, appropriate discipline techniques, and eating a healthy diet parents can pass along important values. Under these conditions, the mental and physical health of both the parent and the child can flourish.

Role Models Engage Children's Minds

A grandfather in action being a good role model.

A grandfather in action being a good role model.

Role Modeling Friendship

According to the Mayo Clinic, friendship is good for your health. People who maintain healthy relationships are known to have lower stress levels, lower blood pressure, and stronger mental health. We all wish these things for our children when they grow up. It all starts when they are young.

When kids are young the family is the introduction to social groups. You will likely start setting up play dates and helping your kids make friends when they are very young. These friendships will teach kids a sense of belonging and provide them with a support system that helps cope with hard times and difficult situations. Reflect on your friendships to make sure that you're setting a good example for your kids.

Ways to role model healthy friendships:

  • Prioritize friendship. Teach your kids to be a good friend by being a good friend. This creates a positive morality that will continue for life. Life moves fast, and it's easy to be distracted by work, kids, the news, politics, worry, bills, and stress. Sometimes we become so busy we stop making time for friends. This sets a negative example. Through your example, you can show kids how to prioritize friends.
  • Use social media with intent. Not only do you need to teach your kids about the dangers of social media. You must role model this by paying close attention to how you behave on social media. Keep your online social media pages in line with your ethics and morals. Don't go on mad rants or engage in angry back-and-forths with other users. This behavior could haunt you, and if your children learn it from you and engage in those behaviors, it could come back to haunt them, too.
  • Being honest with your friends is an important value. This honesty creates loyalty that people need not just for the good times, but to help cope with the bad times. You don't want your kids to witness you lying to your friends, this sets the wrong example. Instead, make sure your friendships are honest and show that you can listen, not just talk.
  • Teaching your kids loyalty isn't easy. Role modeling loyalty means showing you are trustworthy. When your kids see you gossip or overhear you criticizing your friends behind their back, you break down the idea of loyalty and trust. To maintain healthy friendships means being able to keep private matters private. As kids develop friendships, they will look to the example role models have set.

Some ways to be a good familial role model remember to be aware of social media behaviors, be honest with your friends, prioritize friendship, and be a trustworthy confidant.

Education and Work Relationships

Teaching good behavior isn't easy. Society is a collection of people who agree on systems, rules, and social expectations. It is difficult to maintain relationships with teachers or bosses if we don't work within the system. There are bound to be disagreements and differences, but at school and work, people must learn to get along even when interacting with someone who rubs people the wrong way.

When kids encounter these relationships, they need to have a sound value system, a strong self-esteem, and coping mechanisms. School and work relationships don't share the same flexibility that kids have with friends and family. Role model a healthy work ethic, to emphasize this in your children.

Role modeling work and school behaviors:

  • Be positive within realistic parameters. You can teach your child how to overcome obstacles by being a positive person who can find the silver lining in any situation. Students and employees who bounce back quickly from failure or issues tend to go further with their education and careers. We all have those moments where we are angry or frustrated at school or work, but we can show kids how to overcome it by staying away from a negative mindset and demonstrating strong problem-solving skills.
  • Be dedicated. If you are always late or call off a lot, your kids will notice. The more dedicated you are, the more likely your kids will pick up this important social value from you. When you go to work give it 100%, and support your kids to give their education, and later work, that same 100%.
  • Be ambitious. When you settle for less than your best, your kids will probably do the same. By thinking outside of the box you teach your kids critical thinking skills. Set goals and always try to better yourself at work. Work towards promotions or growing your business. When your kids see you trying new things, they will become excited about setting goals and trying new things, too.

Set a good example for your kids by being a positive, dedicated, and ambitious worker. As your children observe your behavior they will begin to reflect the values and traits you have set forth through your actions. In turn, they have a better chance of growing into self-sustaining adults.

Kids thrive when they have parents as good role models, helping them engage in healthy relationships.

Kids thrive when they have parents as good role models, helping them engage in healthy relationships.

Being a Good Neighbor

Modern times changed how people interact with neighbors. It's easy to spend less time interacting with one another. Neighborhoods are the foundation of communities, and together they make up cities, states, and countries. They are also the practice ground for the real world. To teach your child to feel a sense of community, you must show them how to be a good neighbor.

How to role model relationships with neighbors:

  • Influence sustainable change. In a publication sponsored by Habitat for Humanity called Habitat's Quality of Life Framework, they focus on improved quality of life with the outcome of a sense of community, social cohesion, and collective action. Don't spend all your time complaining to neighbors. Show your kids to be a good neighbor by working with your neighbors to make your neighborhood a better place to live through solid communication and teamwork.
  • Be considerate. You can set a good example by being aware of your neighbors' needs and boundaries. Your children will witness the way you treat people in your community, and respond accordingly. Don't play music too loud, take responsibility for your home, keep your property clean, and handle problems maturely. This increases the chance you will set a good foundation for your kids.
  • Help your neighbors when you can. This is a great way to teach generosity. Actions that are for the common good of the neighborhood keep them strong. On the flip side, accept help from your neighbors when you need it. These actions show kids how to be a good community member and a good citizen.

Behaving like a good neighbor teaches kids the importance of community. If you set the foundation by working well with neighbors, you give your kids a strong start. Neighbors are the third line of defense just beyond family and friends. When they support one another, communities can be a peaceful place to live.

Role Modeling the Acquaintance Relationship

It is sometimes tricky for parents to role model healthy relationships with acquaintances. These are people we know, but not closely. This group is easy to overlook. It's important to set a good example for your kids when it comes to acquaintances because it teaches boundaries, not to mentions that they are the pool of potential new friends.

Here are some ways to role model relationships with acquaintances:

  • Set healthy boundaries. Every parent wants to see their child treated well by others. We pave the way by setting clear boundaries with the people that we meet. As our children unconsciously absorb this, they will begin learning how to set their own boundaries with new people they meet. Setting boundaries help teach other people about what we expect from them, that's a great lesson to role model for your kids.
  • Be Broadminded. Modern parents shudder at the thought of our children growing up in an angry, hateful, war-filled land. Each person must take personal responsibility for how they treat acquaintances and be careful not to make snap judgments about other people. Kids are always watching, even when we think they aren't. Judging others harshly, with bias, fuels negative emotions, which tend to come to a boil. We don't want that to be reflected in our children. Accept differences, and be willing to agree to disagree, then your kids are more likely to be open-minded. In short, respect the rights of others.
  • Keep expectations realistic. Expecting too much out of acquaintances creates emotional attachments that lead to becoming offended when it might not be appropriate. It is more important than ever to teach our kids to have the appropriate level of expectations from people we don't know well.
  • Be polite. When children observe you being polite to others, they will pick up the behavior. This means extending social and civil courtesies to other, saying please and thank you, and listening to what others say. Even though some of the rules of society have changed, it's still appropriate to teach good manors.

Parents as role models for acquaintances means being polite, setting boundaries, being open-minded, and having appropriate expectations. As our children internalize and then externalize these behaviors, they will master getting to know new people, and then making friends.

Teaching kids to be a Good Consumer

The most overlooked relationship parents role model is the consumer relationship. There are many reasons for this. Adults sometimes get in a rush and in a hurry and take their aggression out on people who are just trying to do their jobs. Too often we are someplace, like the doctor's office or grocery store, and forget our kids are watching. Not only your own kids but sometimes other peoples kids, too.

If we allow our kids to witness us abusing others in their workplace we may teach them to do the same. The suggestion isn't to be fake nice to everyone. The solution is to treat people in their workplace with respect, and when there is a problem to address it through appropriate channels while staying in control of your emotional state. Role modeling conflict resolution skills set a healthy tone for the child.

How to role model consumer relationships:

  • Keep control of emotions. When you take your kids shopping, to medical offices, banks, or any other place where people are being paid to provide you a service, remember to be a good customer. Thank people when they do a good job, and be kind about true mistakes. As stated above, there are bound to be problems and issues with someone who is doing a job. Instead of yelling at people, ask for a manager and calmly elevate to an offending employees superior. Don't elevate your temper. Think in the terms of conflict resolution.
  • Don't be afraid to budget. Talk to your kids about your budget, and the importance of budgeting. You don't have to show them exact figures, but help them understand the value of money by making them aware of your budgeting habits. A good role model helps their kids understand how to create a clear money management plan, and how to follow a budget. Don't be scared to tell your kids when something is outside of your budget, the agreed upon amount you pre-planned to spend on a given item. When they have money encourage them to make their own budget for practice.
  • Barter fairly. In some circles, the more something costs the better. Sometimes there is a clear quality difference that makes this true, but sometimes your just getting ripped off. Parents must teach kids how to make sure they are getting a good deal so that they don't end up in a never-ending cycle of getting ripped off. Shop around, look for good deals, and research before you buy. You can let your child help, and role model how to get a fair deal.

Parents can role model good consumer relationships by being a savvy shopper, teaching the value of money, budgeting, and keeping emotions under control.

Romantic Relationships Role Modeling

Romantic relationships are sometimes the most difficult type of relationship to role model. We live in a complicated society that has high divorce rates. That doesn't make romantic love a bad thing. Parents must learn to communicate well with their partner and to tell the truth.

Role modeling romantic relationships:

  • Communicate clearly. When your children see the lengths you go to communicate with your partner, they will learn to put the same amount of effort in when they have a romantic relationship. We must go out of our way and work hard to listen to each other. We need to do more than hear our partners, we need to work to really understand what they are saying. Our kids will watch us be good listeners, and it will help them replicate the behavior.
  • Show your significant other patience. We want what we want, and we want it now. This strange century is one of instant gratification. We begin to expect others to meet our demands more quickly than is sometimes possible. We must remind ourselves that human beings sometimes need time to get on the same page. When you show patience with your significant other, and to your kids, you teach them to show more patience with you. Parents must role model patience to make sure that it doesn't become a lost art.
  • Avoid daily conflict. Research suggests that daily conflict lowers relationship satisfaction and closeness. When kids witness daily conflict, they learn that it a natural state. Children raised in that type of environment sometimes don't know you can go a day without conflict. They grow up replicating this, and many end up suffering from high anxiety, depression, and other issues. Don't avoid conflict altogether, instead, make sure you are role modeling problem-solving skills, so your children can learn from you how to overcome problems by watching you solve them. This is another time to focus on new conflict resolution skills.
  • Be committed to your partner. Romantic love should be a sacred thing; not something so easily recycled. When we role model commitment to our kids, we give them a beautifully solid foundation for romantic love. We want our kids to have strong values so they will be good parents when they grow up. Wouldn't it be great if we could teach our kids how to value love and marriage, and reverse the high divorce trend? When we role model dedication to our partners, we instill in them ethics that may help them have more successful romantic relationships later in life.

To role model romantic relationships, be dedicated, committed, and show great patience. We help kids value these types of relationships through our actions. Avoid daily conflict, and apply problem-solving skills to overcome issues. This increases the chance that our children will grow to be good husbands and wives some day.

Awareness and Behavior Modification

Now that you have learned seven main types of relationships that parents need to role model well for kids, take some time to reflect. If you are looking for ways to be a better role model, then spend more time being aware of your interactions with others. Pay attention how you treat people in your life and think about what type of relationships might be suffering in your life.

Fear is one of the biggest obstacles you face. Fear can turn our perceptions into a worry factory that slows us down, clouding our judgment. We begin to worry too much about what others are thinking about us. You should care what others think, but not to the point where the stress creates painful anxiety.

Spend less time feeling anxious about the different relationships in your life, and more time working hard to build quality interactions with others. Parents want to raise happy healthy kids, but it begins by role modeling these behaviors through our own daily choices and interactions.


  1. Sylvia R Cruess, professor of medicine, Richard L Cruess, professor of surgery, and Yvonne Steinert, professor of family medicine. "Role Modeling - Making The Most of a Powerful Teaching Strategy." British Medical Journal (BMJ). Web. 08/14/18
  2. Habitat Humanity International, 2018 January, Role Models Run in the Family. Retrieved from
  3. Mayo Clinic Staff, 2016. September 28. Friendship: Enrich your life and improve your health. Retrieved from
  4. PLoS Pathog. 2016 Jun; 12(6): e1005426.Published online 2016 Jun 2. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005426.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Ruby Oliver


Shane Potter on September 04, 2018:

You Have A Wonderful Gift Keep On Making Your Dreams & Your Writing Up

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